Big Z breaks out for Wildcats

Published 11:15 am Monday, January 22, 2024

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

It was all A’s for Big Z.

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On the day he was declared eligible by the NCAA, freshman Zvonimir Ivisic scored 13 points in his debut to help lead No. 8 Kentucky to a 105-96 win over Georgia Saturday night. He added five rebounds, three blocked shots, two steals and and two assists in 16 minutes on the court.

Upon hearing the news hours before the team’s tipoff against the Bulldogs, Ivisic said everything was “crazy” and “didn’t know what to do.” He added the news “came out of the blue.”

“I started crying to be honest,” said Ivisic, who never doubted he wouldn’t play this season. “I knew this day was going to come — my teammates, my coach and BBN and everybody else who supported me (kept me confident).”

“He was all smiles,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “He’s got a ways to go, but you know why he was wide open, they didn’t think he could shoot threes and they hadn’t seen him ever play. It was a good start for him. It took a long, long time, but I appreciate the work everybody did to make it happen.”

In the midst of day filled with mixed emotions, Ivisic admitted he had butterflies in the moments leading up to his collegiate debut.

“I was nervous at the beginning, while I was sitting on the bench and in the locker room,” Ivisic said. “I was really nervous, but when I got in, I was really cool.”

The freshman from Croatia ,who missed the team’s first 16 games while awaiting clearance to play from the collegiate governing body, made an immediate impact. His first big play was a block and he dazzled the crowd with a behind-the-back pass to teammate Antonio Reeves on an 3-pointer.

It was the beginning of more big things to come from the freshman forward.

Later in the half, Ivisic displayed his offensive skills and again wowed the crowd, scoring 11 points in a 13-2 run by the Wildcats that pushed a slim lead to double digits. He knocked down three straight baskets and made four field goals in less than three minutes. He scored 11  in the opening half, three behind Antonio Reeves, who led the hosts with 14 points in the first half and finished with 21.

Ivisic wasn’t as active in the second half, but connected on his first collegiate dunk, which also served as a learning experience. He was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim for an extended time. The dunk took the Cats over the century mark.

His lone 3-point attempt in the second half was an airball, but it didn’t take away from his first performance as a Wildcat.

Tre Mitchell, who led the Wildcats with 23 points, wasn’t surprised by Ivisic’s outing.

“It’s great to play with him because of his versatility,” Mitchell said. “He’s big, but he’s able to do whatever you need him to do at any position. It’s just like the flow of the game is just as easy with anybody else out there (on the court).”

On a night when the school honored the program’s 1984 Final Four team that went 29-5 and featured “Twin Towers” Sam Bowie and the late Melvin Turpin, Ivisic stood tall for the Wildcats.

“I used to be ‘Big Boo’ but today I want to be known as Big Z,” said Bowie during a halftime celebration.

It was indeed a memorable day for Big Z.